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Building a Joyful Yoga Teaching Career

What brought you to Yoga?

Initially, I had no idea that I was destined to be here. As a kid, I was fond of exercising and enthralled with karate. When I was only nine or ten years old, during my karate training, a friend suggested that yoga would be great for improving my ability to focus. In no time, Karate shifted to second place as my passion turned towards yoga.

Tell us about your yoga education and training.

I would buy books from local bus stands, go through them and try yoga postures myself. Finally, in 1988, I joined yoga classes conducted by Suraj Karan Jindal Sahib. As per Indian custom, I call him Guruji.

We connected at a level that went beyond a student-teacher relationship. Perhaps that was the reason why people started noticing me as well. Naturally, when fame starts knocking on the door, we get more attracted towards it. That was when I started loving yoga even more.

I would travel to places like Pondicherry and Kanpur with Guruji to attend various international yoga conferences and seminars. Soon, I was participating in yoga contests and winning gold medals. I never received anything like that in karate, but yoga did bring me a lot of recognition and glory.

Until 1998 I believed that I was the best, at least in the state of Rajasthan. But I was hit by reality in the first International Yoga Conference held in Pondicherry after I met various other yoga gurus. I realized how much more I had to learn.

After that trip, I would start off my day with two hours of karate, followed by three hours of yoga practice. There was a fire, a passion within me that was unstoppable. After nine months, I won a gold medal at the International Yoga Conference held in Jaipur. So, my journey from January to October that year was all about practicing yoga. It was a turning point in my life, and there was no going back.

Volunteers from Washington-headquartered Alterra Global Education Initiatives visited YogaPeace to learn yoga from Dhakaram Sapkota. Image Source: YogaPeace.

How did you decide to start YogaPeace?

I was a senior teacher at Rajasthan Swasthya Yoga Parishad. I would regularly visit each of its many branches for six days to give advanced training. I did this for four years until one day a friend of mine, Sharad Dhakkar, and I came up with the idea of starting a yoga studio. He came up with the name, YogaPeace, and I said, “Okay brother, let’s do it!”

Another dear friend of mine, Mr. Mangal, offered us space on the ground floor of his apartment for free. We opened YogaPeace in 2006. Although my studio wasn’t as big as this before, I would always maintain cleanliness. I decorated the studio with flowers and plants myself, even if it meant extra expense. I wanted to do it quality or not at all.

What is the current state of your personal training?

I’ve never considered myself a master. I believe that the day a person thinks they know everything in their field is the day their journey as a professional ends. If one keeps learning, there will never be an end to it.

I still attend seminars and camps held by well-known dignitaries in the yoga world. I never let the feeling of knowing-it-all get the best of me. Along with that, I join classes that teach different patterns of yoga.

When you first started teaching, was it hard to attract students?

When I started off, distributing pamphlets, people told me, “Sure, we’ll come!” Believing them, I organized a free camp to kick off my teaching business. Sixty students turned up.

Teaching yoga was my only source of income, and I had a family to look after. So, after a month of free yoga classes, I introduced a 500 INR (8 USD) monthly fee. However, only four people continued! It got me down.

Then a few women from nearby apartments asked for an evening class. I was hesitant at first, thinking, “What if nobody turns up again?” But they assured me of at least ten people. So, I started an evening batch. Seven students enrolled, but only one continued the following month.

Locals attending one of Dhakaram Sapkota’s classes at YogaPeace, Jaipur. Image Source: YogaPeace.

How did you build your student base?

Regardless of who walked into my studio, I didn’t care much about their fees. I’ve always focused on giving my students the best yoga experience so that each time they leave class with a smile on their face.

If a student doesn’t attend a class for a few consecutive days, we make sure to call and ask why they haven’t been back. Also, unlike most studios, my classes run the whole day. So, we identify each person’s unique needs and cater to them.

These days, we offer regular yoga, fitness yoga, therapy yoga, pregnancy yoga, partner yoga, advanced yoga, meditation, a yoga instructor course, corporate yoga classes, and a six-day slimming program.

Dhakaram Sapkota starred in Jackie Chan’s “KungFu Yoga” as the levitating yogi (see scene at 1:21 to 1:28 in this trailer).

What advice do you have for people considering teaching yoga as a career?

The main points would-be teachers should keep in mind are:

  1. In yoga, there’s always something to discover within yourself.
  2. Train for yoga only because you desire to do it, not because it makes for a profitable future. If you have business in mind, then you cannot be a good teacher.
  3. Love and understand each of your students because everyone has different needs.
  4. Lastly, take time out and continue practicing every day. It’s a great field for a career but without practicing for an hour or two every day will lead to nowhere.

What challenges are they likely to face according to you?

Obstacles are inevitable, no matter the field of your career. It always depends on your perspective. Building a student base will be difficult, but if you teach with passion, devotion, and care, your students will definitely return and recommend you to their friends.

What are your future plans?

Although I don’t like to stress over it, I have an idea in my subconscious mind. In the future, I want to build a huge center with accommodation, different compounds for various types of yoga, and greenery everywhere. People from all over the world would come to stay in it. At the moment, I’m not doing anything for it because this is a high budget project. At the same time, I am not unhappy without it. It’s just a wish that I’d like to make true.

The practice space at YogaPeace, Jaipur. Image Source: YogaPeace.

How do you go about attracting new students?

I’ve had marketing services companies approach me with promotion strategies but have always turned them down. At the end of the day, I believe that word of mouth is the truest (and cheapest!) way of attracting new students.

That said, we do have a well-maintained website and are active on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. This allows us to connect with our students around the world. We post information about yoga postures, and information about the upcoming free sessions we hold occasionally.

We also share any recent media coverage. I’ve had the good fortune of receiving frequent coverage by newspapers and health-related TV programs. While I don’t like to self-promote, I do believe in sharing my achievements. There’s a difference between the two!

Is yoga a way of life or a way to exercise and meditate?

I am concerned with how the younger generation regards yoga solely as a physical fitness routine. Yoga is not just physical. People need to be mentally healthy as well. Yoga is all about staying fit and happy — both mentally and physically.

While there are many types of yoga, what they have in common is the goal to find happiness from within. If a person is happy without doing anything, then I consider them a yogi. If a person is doing the toughest of yoga postures but is not happy, then in my opinion, they are not eligible to be called a yogi.

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